August 25, 2008
I was on the bus to work the other day, when a taxi passed by bearing the slogan: ‘More is always on the way’. It turned out to be an advert for holidays to Turkey. More is always on the way? This could almost be the signature of the present consumer culture. In the present time, more is always regarded as desirable because we can never have enough.
While, in one way, the fact that more is always on the way could provide us with a sense of abundance, it also has some negative consequences. An emphasis on more tends to mean that quantity becomes more important than quality, or even that quality is measured in terms of quantity. In other words, more is always better regardless of quality. For instance, my local supermarket can sell me bananas all year round, even if those bananas don’t taste of anything.
In addition, the fact that more is always on the way may make us devalue our present experience because, rather than savouring it through appreciating its transience, we are constantly oriented towards the more that is on the way. So we gobble up our present experience, in order to make room for the more that is on the way. If experiences are relatively rare, we may invest them with greater significance, if they happen all the time then we may take them for granted and cease to value them. If I see a heron on the canal, I am always delighted because it is a relatively rare sight, but if I see a jackdaw in my back yard, it’s no big deal.
While I don’t want to make an argument in favour of deprivation, it is not necessarily a good thing that more is always on the way. Despite consumerist propaganda, it does not make for an enjoyable life that we can have anything at any time, 24/7 – and it is not even true for those without the necessary buying power. Rather than satisfying us, the apparently unbridled choices that we face can simply be overwhelming, resulting in a constant feeling that maybe we should have made a different choice. This may lead us to flit from one thing to another, as though we had a banquet before us but didn’t know what to eat first. In turn this means we never really enjoy or experience anything fully because our attention is constantly drawn to the next thing that we can consume.
Importantly, the more that is always on the way will never satisfy our existential lack because this is not something that can be filled with more of anything. This is perhaps why however much we have of anything we are always left with a slight tinge of dissatisfaction. Our lack is something that we must come to terms with, not fill up. While we are seduced into thinking that more is the answer, we are drawn into a perpetual pursuit of it, a pursuit that keeps the wheel of Samsara turning.